By Elias Savada.
In other words, nothing new. Same slick package, different psychopathic enemy.”
Are you ready to put your troubles aside and hopefully not worry about the semi-masked fool sitting a few seats away from you in the multiplex (for 163 minutes, a Bond record) as you watch Daniel Craig serve His Majesty’s Secret Service one more time? Is this the time to take the popcorn plunge – and venture back to the big screen? Yes, the long delay is over as the 25th official movie in the James Bond universe finally arrives for your viewing pleasure. Postponed from numerously announced opening dates as early as 2019, the latest spy thriller showcases a world class hero back to his old tricks – car chases in an indestructible Aston Martin DB5, “shaken, not stirred” martinis, exotic locations, nifty gadgets that don’t fail when Facebook does, beautiful (and quite savvy) women, and saving the world from imminent doom. In other words, nothing new. Same slick package, different psychopathic enemy. Yes, it’s time to go back to the cinema!
No Time To Die is the first film in the 007 series by an American director, with the accomplished Cary Joki Fukunaga making a bloody good show of it. He paces the action well and gracefully follows Daniel Craig’s barely-showing-his-age fifth and final performance as he hangs up his Bond boots. Tucked into this robustly stunt-driven feature is a script by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (both providing lots of dramatic punch for Bond since 1999’s The World is Not Enough) and Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, with the latter adding some of the sly humor that made Fleabag and Killing Eve so likable.
The story picks up after the end of Spectre (2015), as a now retired Bond is beginning his seaside honeymoon in Matera, Italy with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Sure, she’s the daughter of an old nemesis, but maybe she’s let bygones be bygones? C’mon, not so fast. The spectacle of a quick moving chase through the cobblestone streets and alleyways of the quaint village will leave you exhausted during the film’s opening moments.
Actually, there’s a flashback prelude to the opening, where you’re introduced to a baddie making mincemeat of the mother of Madeleine (as a child) in a remote Norwegian house, providing a frigid backstory to how her life was shaped from that wintry encounter.
And then, it’s five years post honeymoon. Yeah, the marriage didn’t work out and the main plot starts to shape up with a brutal heist of a genetic weapon that MI6 needs to recover before it wreaks havoc on the world. On the film’s Jamaica location, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) manages to convince his old friend that he’s needed back home to help his Queen and Country with that espionage problem.
Bond’s arrival back at the home office finds some of his former cohorts welcoming him, some not. That’s Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny, Ben Whinsaw as the fastidious yet exasperated Q, and Ralph Fiennes as M. Still, all good friends to the prodigal son. Alas, in Bond’s absence a prodigal daughter has taken on the 007 moniker. Nomi (Lashana Lynch) is one of two MI6 spies making bold appearances in the film. She’s a no-nonsense character upset that Bond’s return will dethrone her spot at the top of the spy chain. It’s a nice interplay between both of them before they realize this is a team effort. Ana de Armas, who played opposite Craig in the 2019 comedy thriller Knives Out, makes a striking, but too short, addition to the ensemble as Paloma, supposedly a new trainee who is a quick learner. Her light, comic approach offers a nice refreshment in the middle of all the serious the-world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket approach that encompasses most of the film.
In the middle of that hell is Lyutsifer (yeah, sounds like Lucifer) Safin, the latest larger-than-life arch-villain played with subdued, devilish menace by Rami Malek. While his distant presence isn’t quite as menacing as some of the other Bond enemies who preceded him, he does have a private island that conjures up memories of Dr. No. That was the first of Ian Fleming’s books to be filmed, way back in 1962, and also featured an island lair for its titular criminal. Safin has some facial disfiguration that he hides with a Noh mask, a motif that reoccurs throughout the film that reflects the character’s inner torment. Or makes it much larger. An interesting device, nonetheless.
Christoph Waltz returns at a key moment in the film, as the imprisoned Blofeld, who is believed to be a puppet master, via a remote bionic eye, in numerous vengeful attacks on Bond. The reunion between him and Bond goes poorly.
Technically, it’s just as good as any of the Bond films, with a marvelous opening credit sequence, sparkly 65mm photography by Linus Sandgren, terrific music from Hans Zimmer, and a title tune sung by Billie Ellish. It offers a few cute winks to earlier moments in the franchise. Passing tributes to Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green in Casino Royale (2006) in which Craig made his first appearance in the series, and Judi Dench cane be spotted if you don’t blink.
No Time To Die may not be the best Bond, but it is what we need to break out of a long winter and year+ not of our making. It’s a stylish, charismatic, big screen finale to Craig’s 16-year association with the spy. As for who’s next, that’s anyone’s guess.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).